THE recent floods were, for some people, catastrophic. Television news showed one woman in Newry struggling to rescue a few First Communion dresses from her shop. When a reporter questioned her, the water she stood in was twinned with the tears flooding down her face.
Car owners, home owners, business owners – no-one was safe from the deluge. And if you think being flooded is just a matter of waiting for the waters to recede and then doing a bit of a clean-up, you’ve obviously never been flooded. We’re good at damaging ourselves, but from time to time Nature shows its capacity for unstoppable damage.
Which brings us to the DUP. That party’s hope of emerging stronger from the sodden mess of their Stormont boycott looks impossible. The longer they refuse to do their job – form an Executive with Sinn Féin – the more people in health, in education, in business, are driven to distraction. Yet for the DUP, the words ‘Form an Executive with Sinn Féin’ appear to sound like something from a nightmare.
That shouldn’t be so. Given the historic step Ian Paisley took to work with Martin McGuinness, you’d think it’d be easier for Sir Jeffrey Donaldson to do something similar. But the good knight and certainly the hardliners in his party have their reasons for inaction. They see NEI being lumped in with the rest of Ireland into one economic unit, which by definition would mean it was different from the rest of the UK. People talk about following the money; for Jeffrey and Co, it’s what follows the money that has them in mortal dread: if economic unity comes, can political unity be far behind?
Nationalists and republicans try to tell the DUP that NEI remains an integral part of the UK unless and until a border poll is held and won by nationalists and republicans. But Jeffrey is perfectly aware of that; what keeps him awake at night is the thought that economic unity strengthens the case for political unity and could make all the difference in the event of a border poll.
And then there’s the second fiddle thing. It’s hard to feel too much sympathy for unionist politicians in this. It’s a matter of record that they were the ones who shouted from the rooftops about how disastrous it would be if Sinn Féin were to pass the DUP and claim the First Minister title. Now that the disaster has happened and Michelle O’Neill is First-Minister-in-waiting, the DUP have become the victims of their own propaganda, hoist by their own petard. When a state has been constructed with the express intention of keeping unionism in charge and nationalism on a tight lead, it would chafe horribly for the DUP to be forced into the role of Deputy. And every time Jeffrey or Doug deny that this as an issue for them, the more unconvincing they sound.
In February 1922, Winston Churchill spoke in the House of Commons about how Europe had emerged from the bloody deluge of the Great War, and yet “as the deluge subsides and the waters fall short, we see the dreary steeples of Fermanagh and Tyrone emerging once again.”
Today, as the flood of the Troubles recedes, the DUP and unionism squelch to shore in full panic mode, totally out of ideas, sodden with self-deception. And we watch the diminutive figure of Jeffrey Donaldson, still out at sea, still out of his depth, his upraised arm that of a man not waving but drowning.